Joan Rivers Better Work

Thanks to Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, rapt audiences are learning that there’s a lot more to Joan Rivers than E! red carpet critiques, QVC jewelry, and plastic surgery punch lines.

BY Brandon Voss

June 24 2010 7:25 PM ET

Thanks to Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, rapt audiences are learning that there’s a lot more to Joan Rivers than E! red carpet critiques, QVC jewelry, and plastic surgery punch lines. The critically acclaimed documentary by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg follows a rocky year in the life of and on the road with the caustic comedy icon, including her victory on Celebrity Apprentice last season. As the film expands into theaters nationwide, Rivers, who turned 77 earlier this month, kicks off a summer of intimate Manhattan club appearances with a special two-show gay pride edition June 24. Also starring in the upcoming WE reality series Mother Knows Best with daughter Melissa, Rivers looks back at the lifetime of laughter and tears she’s shared with gay audiences.

The Advocate: Your documentary is officially a hit. Has the success gone straight to your head?
Joan Rivers: Well, I was always an egomaniac, but now it’s gone even further. It’s just so unexpected. We thought we were doing a nice little documentary about show business, age, and how difficult it all is. We took it to Sundance, thinking, Oh, maybe they won’t be snotty. But then it came back with prizes and everybody screaming. It’s been an amazing ride.

I would’ve bet that a gay man would ultimately make a documentary about your life — not two women who, as you’ve noted in another interview, don’t wear makeup. How might the film have turned out with a gay man behind the camera?
It definitely would’ve dealt with different aspects of my life. There would’ve been more about the fashion and fun in my life, but Ricki and Annie went for how difficult it is. They came off of doing a documentary about Darfur, so they really didn’t give a damn that I’d met Judy Garland. I guess that means there’s room for another documentary.

You’re performing a gay pride edition of your stand-up show tonight in New York for gay pride week.
I’m so excited. When I do a show, I usually say, “Where are my gays?” and I make sure they’re down front. Tonight I won’t have to say that.

Are you pulling out some classic gay material from your card catalog of jokes we see in the documentary?
Oh, no. God knows what we’ll talk about, but you do want to give them a very strong show. They’re a great crowd, so you want to make sure they get the cream. You know, my first record album was called Mr. Phyllis & Other Funny Stories. I talked about my gay hairdresser, Mr. Phyllis, and that was very shocking in those days. Everybody went, “Oh, my God!” But that was a long time ago.

Do you tread more cautiously than usual when crafting a gay joke to ensure it won’t offend your loyal gay audience? Because if we’ve learned nothing else, gay people can be as sensitive as they are good-humored.
Oh, please. Let’s calm down here. I talk to the audience like I talk to my friends, and that would be the one crowd I wouldn’t worry about. I expect them to get every single thing I say.

You’ve had AIDS jokes in your act. That’s a pretty risky subject for comedy, no?
Why? Didn’t you see the documentary? That’s the whole point. Comedy is how you deal with things. If you can laugh at it, you can deal with it.

Tags: film

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